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Of course, your child’s birthday is a cause for celebration. His/her inaugural one, after all, was no doubt one of your happiest days. Yet the planning, the research, the running around, the worrying that goes into executing a kids’ party that’ll elicit the face-splitting smiles you seek can be, in a word, exhausting. And that’s where we come in. Lucky for us, Connecticut is chockablock with some pretty spectacular kids’ party places and we’ve spent the past few months taking a careful look at them. What follows is the 411 on some of our favorites, from a rockin’ retro roller rink and a movie house that’ll put your child’s name in lights to a museum that puts them behind the controls of a copter and a discovery park that’ll have them flying through the air. So relax: The hard work is done for you. After this, choosing the ideal spot will seem like, well, a piece of cake.
HURRY, HURRY, DRIVE THE FIRE TRUCK
Waterbury-based Fire Engine Express (203/558-5444 or fireengineexpress.com) boasts a fully refurbished 1977 Mack fire engine that it will deliver to your driveway for your firefighter-in-training’s next birthday bash. The two-hour party ($250 to most areas of the state) includes 45 minutes for the kids to explore the engine itself, i.e., flash the lights, blast the siren, get behind the wheel and pose for photos in authentic firefighter gear; 45 minutes for rides (we’re talking the open road—sans sirens, of course); and a half hour of play time with the fire hose and all the water from the truck’s 1,000-gallon tank the kids can handle/dance in. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.
Kids can party hearty with some of the ocean’s smallest creatures under the microscopes at Project Oceanology in Groton (860/445-9007 or oceanology.org). They can even create their own plankton models for action-packed plankton races—oh, the excitement! Another of Project O’s popular theme parties, “My, That’s a Lovely Fish You’re Wearing!” teaches a technique inspired by the ancient Chinese tradition of fish printing to make bright-and shiny T-shirt masterpieces. All parties are $300 for 25 kids (adults are free) and include a two-hour science program, use of oceanographic and laboratory equipment, a hands-on activity with creatures from the sea-water tanks and a half-hour for the post-plankton celebration.
The mission at Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park in Portland (866/860-0208 or brownstonepark.com) is “to make sure each kid leaves here exhausted at the end of the day.” Indeed, it’d be hard not to. Quick history lesson: Brownstone is built around what was once a brownstone quarry in the late 1800s. The 1938 Hurricane, however, turned it into a 29-acre freshwater swimming hole. In 2006 it was reborn as a “sports adventure” park. And, oh, the adventures: a 1,000-foot zip line with a dry landing or one of three runs that end with a wild water landing, cliff jumping from brownstone cliffs ranging from 5 to 30 feet, wakeboarding, rock climbing, scuba diving, snorkeling, rope swings, floating trampolines . . . are you tired yet? The package for eight guests is $375 and includes adventure sports passes, a two-person kayak for the day, cake and a floating gazebo to use as home base.
The Connecticut Science Center in Hartford (860/724-3623 or ctsciencecenter.org) is spectacular in and of itself. Its 10 galleries, after all, include more than 150 (!) exhibits that invite kids to touch, see, hear, smell, and learn! Witness “Mindbender Mansion,” a “giant playhouse for the brain,” “Planet Earth”’s 78-mph hurricane simulator and the chance to “freeze” time and race against gravity in “Forces of Motion.” If that’s not enough, you can add a gaming option to your package and score an hour to play the kids’ favorite Wii games like Mario Kart and Rock Band in the museum’s 3-D digital theater with its 30-by-40-foot screen. The “Cosmic Package” plus gaming is $360 and includes admission for 12 kids, two adults, a party room for two hours, gaming, a program exploring the science of bubbles or polymers (make your own bubble solution or slime!), a T-shirt for the birthday kid, a scavenger hunt, invites and a coupon for each guest for a free return visit.
CLANG, CLANG, CLANG GOES THE TROLLEY
Connecticut Company City Car No. 1602 is all yours for a party at The Shoreline Trolley Museum in East Haven (203/467-6927 or bera.org). Birthdays aboard the 1911 wooden trolley car, which once traveled the streets of New Haven, include two-hour use of the trolley car, round trips on the museum’s 1.5-mile historic rail line through woodlands and marsh (look, there’s an osprey nest!) and a half hour for set-up. The car fits approximately 40 and because it has seats along the sides, you can set up tables down the center and enjoy those cupcakes right on board. Afterward, hop off at the rail yard and let the kids explore the trolley barns—the museum has some 100 vintage transit vehicles in its collection.
THE HOUSE OF BOUNCE
When schools were closed for what seemed like the 90th time this January, BounceU Stratford (203/375-2700) and Rocky Hill (860/529-6500 or bounceu.com) blasted an email with this suggestion: “Get the kids out of the house and let them bounce off of our walls instead of yours.” A brilliant plan any time of year as far as we’re concerned, especially when it’s party time. For the uninitiated, BounceU is an indoor “bounce stadium.” Think inflatable 17-foot slides, obstacle courses, a rock wall, basketball and football tosses, a boxing ring complete with giant blow-up boxing gloves. The Premiere Package ($350 to $385) includes an hour and 15 minutes of play time for 25 guests in a private bounce room, 45 minutes in a private party room, invites and two party pros to run the show (they clean up, too).